Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys
Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., 325-5105, washingtonensemble.org. $15–$25. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Mon. Ends June 24.
In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell contended that women were often the reward waiting for men at the end of victorious quests. But he never had to consider actress Hannah Victoria Franklin—a heroine in her own right, and one with more faces than Campbell has Jungian archetypes to describe.
Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys is a case in point. While every WET production is a team effort, Franklin has become the statuesque tabula rasa that the troupe has time and again hung its fortunes upon. The greater the challenge, the more resourceful and dependable she’s become, and Caroline McGraw’s one-act premiere is no exception.
Though the writing’s somewhat simplistic and obvious, Franklin gives a tour-de-force performance as Brandy, a children’s-party clown who doesn’t much care for kids—unless they’re old enough to be seduced, like the “almost 17” Jack (Jay Myers). Compounding matters are her intermittent fumblings with a toddler’s father (Billy Gleeson), and the possibility that the one guy who might be a good romantic fit is Reverb (Scott Ward Abernethy)—another kid’s clown she dismisses because he doesn’t match her physical criteria.
And if that weren’t enough to keep a poor girl awake at night, there’s a mangy red demon dwelling under her bed, who threatens to pull her down from reality into some hellish netherworld. In McGraw’s morality fable, sex leads just as easily to depravity as to love.
Consider, then, that WET is to Seattle’s theater scene as the Coen brothers are to the world of cinema. When they succeed, they’re brilliant—and even when they don’t, which is rare, their failures are thrillingly performed without a net.
In this instance, director Jane Nichols wisely substitutes a jaunty momentum and a few under-the-covers chills for the character development absent from McGraw’s script. Everyone in her play exists in the periphery of Brandy’s orbit; their motivations ebb and flow only in response to hers.
Still, the opportunity to see Franklin roam the stage as a red-nosed clown and do battle with a villain straight out of storage from some unaired episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is alone worth the price of admission. It ain’t art, but it ain’t bad either.